Mechaner stood calmly as the superintendent nudged a police officer to approach. The sweating police officer cuffed Mechaner with huge shackles. What was Mechaner doing? This was obviously a trick. When would he spring it though? Here, or in transit, or at the police station?

We stood on guard, watching as Mechaner was fitted with a heavy collar. I didn't know what that was for. It didn't look well finished, but not completely makeshift. They must have been planning a method of restraining Mechaner if they did capture him. Maybe it would explode on command, or shock him, or inject a sedative?

They marched him out under heavy guard. We started following, only to find our way blocked by the superintendent. He smiled, and it was all shark. "Looks like we get to have that talk sooner rather than later."

Now the guns were pointing at us. All those turrets, drones, and soldiers Mechaner had let surround him - surround us. I try to think fast enough. The well-prepared defense position would shred us in an instant without Amaterasu's shield.

She couldn't even get off a Dazzling Display before shielding - if that would make a difference. Could she burn through the floor? Make a chute? We were too spread out to get in the tunnel fast, and we would take much more fire than last time she tried that.

Without Lina to supplement with large area of effect attacks we couldn't directly face this many. I doubted the girls would be okay with using even 'non-lethal' attacks on policemen doing their job. Not to mention, I would be dead in seconds without a Full Rainbow Reflection around me - the surrounding forces had a wide firing angle.

Then there was Mechaner's currently quiet constructs. Eva and Amaterasu looked at me. I said, "We are willing to talk. I don't appreciate you pointing the weapons at us."

"You will come with us, and talk when and where we want."

"Are you detaining us? What for?"

"Yes, we are detaining you, just not arresting you yet. We have a warrant to bring you in for questioning. Use of force is permitted."

They brought forward more of those shackles and collars. I crossed my arms. "Those restraints are unacceptable."

"We're not asking. We are detaining you. That means you are under our control. Given your ... powers you are not moving from that spot until you are restrained."

"And what does that collar do?"

"It'll take you down if you resist or try to remove it."

"If that is designed to actively restrain magical girls it'll probably kill me." I didn't like revealing any information, but if they didn't already know I didn't have magical girl toughness they might accidentally kill me.

The superintendent frowned, "We'll check that and just use conventional cuffs if that is the case."

"Any help?" I whispered. Lina responded eagerly. "I could start burning my way in." Jackson sounded regretful. "I can't get any assets to you there." I looked at Eva. She was blankfaced, eyes darting, looking for a way out. Amaterasu looked stressed and worried. Damn, she wasn't going be okay with shooting our way out.

"Okay, we'll come - but no collars. We haven't done anything wrong and the only thing keeping us from shooting our way out is that we aren't your enemies and don't want to hurt you." An exaggeration, but how confident in our capabilities would they be?

The superintendent glanced at the cameras and nodded slowly. Perhaps he was worried by the audience's cheer? It wouldn't look good to march the magical girls out in huge metal collars. I looked at the superintendent. "Other government agencies are going to want to take us. To exploit us."

He did look disturbed at that. "I have no intention of giving you up without mounds of paperwork."

Ah well, maybe we would have some warning at least. We went peacefully. The cavalcade of police cars headed out. Strangely, they put all of us in the same car. Perhaps they knew we could break out unassisted, and wanted to be able to focus fire? Did they understand Amaterasu's shield?

On the way I kept up-to-date with Jackson and Lina. The police hadn't taken anything other than our handguns - a surprisingly friendly concession. Jackson reminded me of a good law firm to handle this affair (the usual family lawyers would be a tell). I told him to make a media ruckus if we hadn't made contact within 24 hours.

As it happened, the police had a secure facility - some sort of terrorist threat containment. Mainly, that meant it had extra bomb hardening, and it was separate from the general station. They split us up here. I have to admit, it was a little intimidating to be away from the friends with superpowers.

Before we passed into the jamming field (to prevent prisoner communication or wireless activated bombs), I added one last unnecessary reminder. "Jackson? Standard coercion countermeasures." Jackson responded, "Of course. And we just discovered something else about the call from the PSIA server logs. It was cut off."

The magical girls Amaterasu, Lina, Eva will end the world. It was cut off? What could come next? Was the meaning changed completely by that edit? Perhaps it continued to say "of Warcraft." Well, there was definitely a period at the end of that sentence, but who knew what critical information could be missing. "Why?"

"The filter identified that call as censurable. The call was on a short delay for some reason, so the reason for the cut was in the lost part of the call. I don't think the call is saved on here."

"Why would the call be delayed?"

"It's possible that the telecom station was just overloaded. I do have another idea though. The call could have been from a high security location. Somewhere they would want to make sure you couldn't accidentally reveal secrets from."

The call originated from a high security building. I guess that made as much sense as anything. Who or what was behind this? The connection cut out before I could grill Jackson for more information.

They took me into a standard, if bare, interrogation room. The unpainted concrete walls and undirtied floor indicated they hadn't used this for a while, if at all. I waited in the plain metal chair.

Three hours later, the superintendent appeared, accompanied by two officers and an officious lawyer type. The superintendent sat in front of me with a thankful groan. "Apologies for the wait. I've been busy with Mechaner."

He was going for a friendly approach, I gathered. "Understandable, however I would like something to eat and drink shortly. Now, what did you want to talk about?"

"We'll start by having you tell me your real name."

"Shouldn't my lawyer be here?"

"I'm afraid we aren't letting anyone in. I hope you understand the danger."

"I'm not an expert, but interrogating me without allowing legal representation doesn't sound legal."

"Anti-terrorism legislation. You've caused plenty sufficient damage to qualify."

"I don't see why I should reveal my true name. You'll just attempt to use it to leverage more out of me."

"It's the way things are done. You seem pretty savvy. Are your teammates savvy as well? One way or another we'll find out who you are. It will be better for you if you just cooperate now."

"Age-old prisoners dilemma eh? I trust them. For now let's just discuss topics we might make progress on. Like Mechaner, and our defense of the city."

"No dilemma. You trust your teammates? Do they trust you? You are the one who claims not to have 'superpowers,' and your lack of durability seems to bear that out. Bit of the odd man out, aren't you? Late to the party and all. How much do you really know about these girls? I think we can show you something that might change your mind."

"Show me what you want."

"For now, let's discuss Mechaner and your so-called 'defense of the city.' What do you know about Mechaner? Who is he? What are his goals? Who are the 'magical girls?' Where do they get their power? Why does Mechaner start his attacks with grandiose threats? Why does he dawdle, letting the magical girls catch him in the act?"

"That's a lot of questions. I don't know who Mechaner is. My knowledge of his goals are no more than what he stated publicly. I do have my own ideas and speculations of course. They are extensive - would you like to hear them?"

"Later. Perhaps you would care to hear my speculations. Mechaner wants to fight the magical girls and lose. He simply hasn't fought to the best of his capabilities. He shouts threats and takes hostages, but goes into a holding pattern until the magical girls arrive.

When police forces interfere he responds ferociously, but when the magical girls respond he puts on a show. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. It's a classic scam.

Mechaner makes damaging but strangely low-casualty attacks, he only lets the magical girls defeat him, and the magical girls become famous, loved and trusted. After all: they've been saving people. Nevermind their collateral damage, strange powers, great secrecy and suspiciously timed appearance. So what do they get out of it? I don't know, but I intend to find out."

I paused. That was suspicious from his perspective. I knew the girls well enough to be confident they weren't pulling that, but he didn't. I might be able to convince him by telling him about the calls. That was potentially very valuable information though. "I am confident that is not the magical girls' intention. However I am not so sure about Mechaner's. I have also noticed his strange behavior. I will say however that on at least one occasion he has attacked the magical girls with brutality and willingness to significantly harm them."

"Perhaps this was the cause of Eva's injury? It will take some time, but I'm sure we can track down everybody in the metropolis missing both hands. If she lives in Tokyo we'll identify her. Of course, hospital records make that even easier."

I carefully kept my expression blank, with a small flicker of disdainful amusement. Damn. Too much to hope they wouldn't notice that. Maybe Jackson could delete the hospital records, but there were people who knew Rin lost her hands, and missing records would be highly suspicious.

He continued after letting that sink in. "I will be back soon. Think about whether you want to help us. We will get what we need eventually."

He stood with effort, revealing his age and tiredness. He left the room. Shortly later, the lawyer type returned with fast food. I grabbed it and ate ravenously - being arrested was hungry work. The lawyer sat down. "We too need to talk, Mr. Lerche."

~~~~

Chapter 10: Mr Lerche

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